Little awareness of HIV among migrants in Iran
HERAT, 21 January 2009 (IRIN) - Ebadullah, aged 26,
worked in Iran illegally for four years, but was
deported on 3 January. Whilst in Iran he used sex
workers and intravenous drugs - unaware of the risks
He is expected to marry and start a family, but is
scared of doing an HIV test.
Every year hundreds of thousands of Afghans, mostly
young single males, illegally cross the border into
Iran in search of work, according to the government
and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Away from home for long periods, some turn to drug
abuse or use the services of commercial sex workers.
“Both men and women sex workers are in abundance in
Iran, and they’re not very expensive,” Ebadullah told
IRIN in Herat.
“Among Afghan refugees [in Iran] the use of
opiates, hashish and even heroin is common,” he said,
adding that taking drugs intravenously was not
Sharing needles is a very efficient way to transmit
blood-borne viruses such as HIV, and has been found to
be three times more likely to transmit the virus than
When asked whether he had thought about HIV, the
young deportee paused and said: “I don’t know. They
[young men] do not worry about diseases. Sex and drugs
are rare pleasures and people don’t want to spoil them
with worries about AIDS.”
Due to their illegal status in Iran, they have few
opportunities to get educated on
HIV/AIDS. Many are illiterate and therefore unable
to read health messages.
Iran deported over 360,000 Afghans in 2008,
according to government statistics.
Herat has one HIV Voluntary Counselling and Testing
(VCT) centre but on average only five people visit it
daily, health officials said.
“Social stigma and lack of awareness are major
problems. People do not voluntarily visit our centre,”
Mohammad Arif Shahram, the head of Herat’s VCT centre,
Among the 504 officially registered cases of
HIV/AIDS in the country, 41 were reported in Herat
Province in the past three years. Most of the 41 were
infected in Iran, Shahram surmised, based on evidence
he had seen at the VCT centre.
“HIV risk factors are higher in Herat than
elsewhere in the country,” said Shahram citing
large-scale trans-border movements and drug addiction
as the most serious challenges.
However, little has been done to boost awareness of
HIV/AIDS among migrants to Iran. Public health
officials in Kabul and Herat said there was currently
no project aimed at raising awareness among them.
Afghanistan kicked off its national HIV/AIDS
control programme in 2003 and has received pledges of
over US$30 million from donors up to 2013. The
first-ever antiretroviral therapy for about 40 HIV
positive people should start soon.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.